AU senior Brandon Krapf was featured Friday in a video on the USA Today website that is part of the week-long series “Degrees of Difficulty.”
The series highlights the struggles of five “non-traditional” college students, or those who did not go straight to college and get a degree in the four years after they graduated from high school. The episodes have been released throughout this week on the Education page of USA Today.
Krapf’s section is the last in the series and “adds a really interesting piece of the puzzle,” said Cynthia Farrar, CEO and executive producer for Purple States, the media company that produced the series.
In the audition video that he submitted to become a participant in the project, Krapf described his decision to turn down a job offer that he received after six years of serving in the military, including a year in Iraq. The job offered him $180,000 a year to work in a contractor job overseas in war zones.
“Non-traditional students” featured in “Degrees of Difficulty”:
Monday: Kathryn McCormick — a single mother of two children; works 35 hours a week as a waitress; attends Valencia Community College in Florida.
Tuesday: Shane Burrows — a full-time sales assistant; studying to become a music teacher; attends Sierra Community College in California.
Wednesday: Dennis Medina — father of three; works as a Boston police officer; attends Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts (selected to be in the series via an online voting contest).
Thursday: Charnée Ball — Navy veteran discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell policy”; not receiving any GI benefits; attends Valencia Community College in Florida.
Friday: Brandon Krapf — Military veteran; served six years; does not receive benefits from the Post-9/11 GI bill; attends American University in Washington, D.C.
He turned it down to get his bachelor’s degree. He enrolled at AU in the School of International Service in the fall of 2007 after a semester at Ocean County College in New Jersey.
“If I could go back to Iraq and get a bachelor’s degree, I assure you I would, all right? This is the hardest experience of my entire life, and I’ve served 6 years in military,” Krapf said in his audition video for Degrees of Difficulty. “I would do combat for 15 hours straight before I’d ever come to college.”
Krapf said he stated that in his video because he is “a lot more stretched out in college. You’re kind of multi-tasking on a much larger, macro-level. So that’s different from the military…all of your support is there in the military. Generally, you’re supported and taken care of.”
While struggling to pay bills, working to keep his grades up and adjusting to the age difference of his classmates and peers, the 27-year-old vet found time to serve on the executive board of Delta Chi for five semesters, including as president of the fraternity for a year at AU.
He also founded Veterans of American University, the school’s chapter of the national organization Student Veterans of America. Brandon served as president of the organization for a year, and it has expanded to include members of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and a civilians’ corps, according to Krapf.
Since the student veterans group started, AU has added an online veterans’ resources network and become a participant in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which offers veterans extra financial support to attend AU, The Eagle previously reported.
Krapf said that he credits AU for taking these steps but worries about veterans that had gone through AU before the establishment of Veterans of American University and other support.
One of the things Krapf is most frustrated with is that he cannot reap benefits from the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. This Post-9/11 GI Bill was introduced by Rep. Harry Mitchell, D.-Ariz., and Sen. Jim Webb, D.-Va., and was passed June 18, 2008.
But benefits from the bill were not effective until August 1, 2009, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, two years after Brandon started at AU.
This particular struggle is something Farrar wanted to capture from Krapf’s story in the Degrees of Difficulty series.
“There’s a whole lot of people…who are in Brandon’s situation,” she said.
As part of the series, each student came to D.C. to meet with federal policymakers and discuss the options they and others like them have concerning Federal student loans and GI benefits.
Krapf spoke with Mitchell about the Post-9/11 GI bill and the problems of veterans who served after 9/11 but started college before it was enacted.
“There’s a whole category of individuals that we thought were taken care of when it came to being able to have the resources to go through college,“ Farrar said when discussing why she chose Brandon as one of the five students. “People don’t realize that even if you have the GI bill, you can rack up a huge amount of debt.”
As a beneficiary of the previous GI Bill, Krapf’s debt from student loans now totals around 100,000 dollars, he said.
“When you get the GI Bill, it’s supposed to cover tuition, but you end up living off of it,” Krapf said. “I’ve thought about quitting school many times.”
Now, Krapf is on the cusp of graduating.
He hoped to finally graduate at the end of the summer, but he has hit a roadblock. He has a language requirement left to fulfill before graduating but no available classes.
“It’s my understanding that AU canceled all Arabic classes this summer, so that’s going to kind of be a hindrance” Krapf said.
All nine summer Arabic classes on the my.american Schedule of Classes website are listed as “Cancelled.”
McKendree Whitney, operations coordinator at the Office of the Registrar, said that departments decide whether to cancel classes, and the reason is often low enrollment numbers, which is common for summer sessions.
“I’ll have to kind of find another way to complete my language requirement,” Krapf said.
Farrar said Purple States is considering a continuation of the series.
“We are thinking about what a sequel might be,” Farrar said. “We feel we really touched a nerve here, and that these are just very powerful issues for a lot of people in this country, and it would be really good to find a way to continue.”
Krapf said that he has learned a lot from the experience, including from talking with the other members of the cast about scholarship, grant and loan options.
“As long as I get my bachelor’s degree and if everything works out — there have obviously been a lot of troubles — and I do get the degree, I’d say, hands down, it was worth it.” Krapf said.